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Poetry Pairings: Iconic Album Edition

Much like poetry collections, the best studio albums are created and organized with intent. They have a grounding theme and unique perspective that challenges readers and listeners to analyze their own lives, experiences, and points of view. To complement some of the greatest albums of the last six decades, we’ve selected six poetry collections to match. Read and listen to these together to generate new understandings of old favorites, or to garner an appreciation for something undiscovered. 

 

1. Revolver by The Beatles (1966) with Planet News by Allen Ginsberg (1968)

An album born out of the apex of the 1960s counterculture, Revolver pushed the boundaries of pop music with a wide range of styles, sounds, and lyrics. The album marks a more experimental phase for the group, incorporating the sounds of psychedelic rock, Hindustani classical music, and even backmasked guitar solos. Of course, a discussion on 1960s counterculture brings none other than beat poet Allen Ginsberg to mind. Planet News, part of the landmark City Lights Bookstore’s pocket poets series, is a collection of Ginsberg’s poems from 1961 to 1967. With a global point of view, a critical eye, and unconventional forms, the collection is exemplary of how Ginsberg’s work influenced the art of poetry in the modern era. The cherry on top? It also includes a poem about seeing the Beatles perform in Portland, OR. 

 

2. Horses by Patti Smith (1975) with The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems by Mary Oliver (1972)

Singer-songwriter, musician, and poet Patti Smith’s debut album Horses put her on the map in 1975. The album incorporates influences from punk rock, jazz, beat poetry, and even William Blake. All at once genuine and profound, Patti Smith’s Horses reminds listeners just how much lyrics matter. And if the lyricism of Patti Smith tugs on your heartstrings, Mary Oliver might do the same. With sharp imagery and strong emotions, this early collection from Oliver reveals her contemplative and witty nature. 

 

3. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) by David Bowie (1980) with Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara (1964)

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) is iconic rock musician David Bowie’s final studio album. Equal parts imaginative and dark, Bowie explores fear, voyeurism, pain, and drama. Often argued as his last great album, Scary Monsters can be seen as an opus of his glam-rock work so far. While Lunch Poems preceded the album by over 15 years, it was not lost on Bowie, who was a fan of O’Hara’s work. The collection offers a balance of spontaneity and tragedy, mirrored in Bowie’s work. The compelling poems of Lunch Poems span the desire for connection, pop culture and literary references, and life in Manhattan. 

 

4. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill (1998) with The Book of Light by Lucille Clifton (1992)

With a uniquely female perspective on life, love, and faith, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill—the debut solo album of the singer-rapper—was nominated for ten Grammys, winning five. The album blends soul, hip hop, and reggae as it displays Hill’s talent as a rapper, singer, and songwriter. After sharing deeply personal thoughts, experiences, and opinions in the album, Hill switched to a more private lifestyle as she raised her children. Just six years prior, iconic poet Lucille Clifton released The Book of Light. The collection spans themes of childhood, family, and survival, as well as artistic and spiritual power. Profound, complex, and at times turbulent, the collection backs up Clifton’s countless awards and nominations. 

 

5. Sea Change by Beck (2002) with Day by Day by Robert Lowell (1977)

Alt-rock musician Beck makes a jolting shift in gears from ironic lyrics and experimental sounds to introspective themes and emotionally-charged ballads in the album Sea Change. With a soft singer-songwriter quality and acoustic, relaxed melodies, the album explores themes of loneliness, isolation, and personal transformation. The album pairs perfectly with Robert Lowel’s Day by Day, the last collection published by the poet before his death. Introspective, lyrical, and at times dark, Lowell writes the collection in retrospect. The poems explore themes of death and mourning, changing points of view, marriage, regret, and other internal conflicts. Both the album and the collection are a great match for those in a reflective mindset. 

 

6. Blonde by Frank Ocean (2016) with Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong (2016)

Another introspective and unconventional album, Blonde by Frank Ocean received widespread critical acclaim at its release. With atmospheric and avant-garde sounds and melodies, Ocean explores themes of masculinity, emotional transformation, trauma, heartbreak, and loss. The album is anything but heavy-handed. Its muted, dreamy soundscape, cerebral yet unassuming lyrics, and genre-resistance gently challenge readers to listen actively as they enjoy the album. Pair this album with poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong for a thoughtful, deeply human reading and listening experience. The award-winning collection presents a fierce yet gentle analysis of existence—from generational trauma to heartbreak and grief, and far beyond. Together, the works build a haunting, ethereal meditation on life.